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Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Holy Schnikies, Batman is Gone!

Our boomer flags were lowered to half staff this week with the passing of Adam West. He was born William West Anderson on September 19, 1928, in Walla Walla, Washington, but for boomers, he was and always will be, Batman.

Anderson’s mother moved him to Seattle after divorcing his father when he was 14, but he went back to Walla Walla after high school to attend Whitman College. After graduating with a degree in literature, he worked a variety of jobs, including as a radio DJ, before doing post-graduate studies at Stanford University.

When he was drafted into the Army, he worked as an announcer for American Forces Network television and was part of a team tasked to create TV studios for the military, first in California, then in New Jersey.

After leaving the army in 1954, an old friend from Walla Walla, Carl Hebenstreit, suggested he move to Hawaii. There, Hebenstreit was hosting a local children’s TV series called The Kini Popo Show with a chimpanzee as his co-host. Anderson got his first acting job when he signed on as a sidekick, and later replaced Hebenstreit as the host. He had never studied acting.

The same year he worked in Hawaii, he appeared in a series of roles on The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse. His first movie role arrived in 1957’s Voodoo Island, though his role was uncredited. After moving to Los Angeles in 1959 he changed his name to Adam West and quickly landed a contract with Warner Bros. There, he appeared in his first credited film, The Young Philadelphians (1959,) along with Paul Newman, Barbara Rush, Brian Keith and Robert Vaughn. A series of Western roles followed, and a slew of television appearances that reads like a Who’s Who of popular boomer TV shows, including 77 Sunset Strip, Bonanza, The Rifleman, Perry Mason, Laramie, Gunsmoke, Bewitched, Maverick, The Outer Limits, Petticoat Junction and The Virginian, to name a few.

As a spokesperson for Nestle’s Quik in 1965, he had more than 70 roles to his credit. Casting agents saw him in a commercial and he became Bruce Wayne/Batman on the Batman television series (1966-68). His campy, deadpan delivery as Batman was the perfect nonsense to appear in a cultural landscape that was increasingly chaotic. The Generation Gap was widening between early boomers and their parents’ generation as the Vietnam War escalated to produce the beginning of the protest movement.

Mister Boomer was a teenager when the series began. He enjoyed the pun-filled dialogue, big star appearances and the tongue-in-cheek nod to comic books with OOF! BLAM! and POW! spinning onto the screen during the inevitable fight sequences. It would be a decade later before Mister Boomer saw the show in color, at which time he saw that the brightness of the colorful sets were clearly designed with comic books in mind. His whole family enjoyed watching Batman, but it was his sister who would walk around the house singing, Da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da…Batman!

There may not be a boomer anywhere who didn’t enjoy some portion of what was clearly a ridiculous portrayal of the Dark Knight. Right from the start the show brought in big stars as villains; Burgess Meredith was the Penguin, Cesar Romero was the Joker, Frank Gorshin was the Riddler, Vincent Price was Egghead, and Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt played Catwoman. By the second season stars asked to be on the show. The list of stars looking to act alongside Adam West is long and impressive. (See Da Da Da Da Da Da Da Da … Guest Star!)

After the show ended in 1968, West was typecast and could not find work. It was two years before he was able to land a role on TV’s The Big Valley. After that he picked up where he left off before becoming Batman, making more than 80 appearances on TV shows and in movies. Boomers recognized his later cartoon voiceover work in SpongeBob SquarePants, The Simpsons and The Family Guy.

Adam West had an accomplished career in movies and television without his role as Batman, but would boomers everywhere remember his name and mourn his passing as they are now if he didn’t don those ill-fitting tights?

What roles do you remember Adam West in, boomers? Were you a fan of the Batman series?

posted by Mister B in Film & Movies,Pop Culture History,TV and have Comments (2)

Boomers Will Take Women’s Names in Beatles’ Songs on the White Album for $200, Alex

Mister Boomer has been a fan of the TV game show, Jeopardy, for several decades, from the time Art Fleming hosted and on to Alex Trebek. However, his schedule doesn’t permit him to watch it much these days. One of the things he always thought would be fun would be to be able to compose a category for the game board. Having given it some thought for years, Mister B knows exactly what he would do, should Alex Trebeck call and give him the chance: his category would be Women’s Names Mentioned on the Beatles’ White Album (1968).

The Beatles sang about various women, both real and fictional, from their very origins and all through their recordings. In the early days they covered popular rock ‘n roll songs that named (Miss) Lizzy, (Long Tall) Sally, Lucille and many others. Then each of their albums named women in their own songs, if not in the titles themselves. There was Anna (Please Please Me, 1963) and Eleanor Rigby (Revolver, 1966); Lucy (in the sky with diamonds, no less; Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967), and that French babe, Michelle (Rubber Soul, 1965); Rita (a lovely meter maid; Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, 1967) and Loretta (who apparently had better get back; Let It Be, 1970), to name but a few. Yet there was not an album release that held such a preponderance of women’s names in it until The Beatles, aka The White Album.

Astute Beatles mavens on the Internet mention more women’s names on that double album with the white cover than any other Beatles album, so it must be true! That provides plenty of material to compose a Jeopardy category for Mister B, which might go something like this:

Jeopardy Contestant: “I’ll take ‘Women Named on The Beatles White Album’ for $200, Alex.”
Alex Trebeck: “And the answer is, ‘Her name was Magill, she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as …’ ”
Contestant: “Who is Nancy?”
Alex: “Correct! From the song, Rocky Raccoon. You have control of the board.”
Contestant: “Same category for $600, Alex.”
Alex: “And it’s the Daily Double!”
Contestant: “I’ll make it a true Daily Double.”
Alex: “The answer is, ‘She was Mia Farrow’s sister, who was visiting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi the same time as the Fab Four in 1968, where they summoned her to ‘come out to play.’ ”
Contestant: “Who was Julia?”
Alex: “Ooh, I’m sorry, that is incorrect. The answer is ‘Who is Prudence?’ from the song, Dear Prudence. That brings you back to zero. We’ll be right back after these commercial messages.”

Other women named on the album include:

• the aforementioned Julia (Julia)
• Martha (Martha My Dear)
• Sadie (Sexy Sadie)
• Molly (singer of Desmond and Molly Jones fame, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da)
• Honey (Honey Pie, though a term of endearment rather than a direct woman’s name, Mister B liked Honey as a name since he was a fan of Honey West)

In doing research for this post, Mister Boomer found several references to using Beatles songs as inspiration for naming babies. Mister Boomer has to confess that he has never met a Sadie (sexy or otherwise) or even a Prudence. Each era has its own list of popular names, and cultural background plays a large role in naming, too. That is why you see a lot of boomers named Robert, Michael, Lisa and Susan, yet their children received names like Joshua, Jason, Jennifer and Jessica; indeed a person’s decade of birth can often be identified by their name. Yet if the assertion is true, then boomers continued naming their children with names that would have been popular in the boomer era and earlier. How traditional, man!

How about it, boomers? Would you create a Jeopardy category based on any Beatles songs? Do you have any connection to women’s names mentioned on The White Album? Have you, or have you known anyone who used Beatles songs as inspiration in naming their children?

posted by Mister B in Fun,Music,Pop Culture History,TV and have Comments Off on Boomers Will Take Women’s Names in Beatles’ Songs on the White Album for $200, Alex

Boomers Remember Uncle Charley

One morning this week Mister Boomer was heading to work. It looked like, as Paul McCartney might say, “just another day.” But nearing the end of his commute to his office, a ripple altered the wavelength of space-time. A man walked passed Mister B, just as zillions of people pass each other every day. Only this time the first sight of this man stopped Mister B in his tracks. Involuntarily, he found himself half-whispering, “Uncle Charley!”

Now, Mister Boomer does have an Uncle Charlie living in another state, but this man looked nothing like him. Rather, this man was a dead ringer for the actor who played Uncle Charley on My Three Sons — William Demarest!

The brain is a wondrous bowl of gelatinous magic. It stores our boomer memories in neat little rows; oft-needed memories are close at hand, but others, those we rarely access or haven’t thought about in years, reside in the back rooms, like dusty volumes in a library’s stacks. The shock of seeing “Uncle Charley” was like the exact Dewy-decimal card jumping out of long wooden drawers and into his hands. A librarian took the card and, in a flash, visited the stacks, found the volume, blew the dust off the top and spine, and delivered it to Mister B. All that happened in the split second he was suspended in his forward motion at the sight of a man who reminded him of a character who hadn’t been top-of-mind in years. What else could Mister Boomer think of this encounter, other than it was a sign to write about Uncle Charley and My Three Sons?

While Father Knows Best (1954-60), I Love Lucy (1951-57), Leave It to Beaver (1957-63) and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952-66) pictured two-parent families, My Three Sons (1960-72) was a sitcom that centered around a widowed man named Steve Douglas (Fred MacMurray) who was raising his three sons — Robbie (Don Grady), Mike (Tim Considine) and Chip (Stanley Livingston) with the help of his father-in-law (William Frawley, who boomers will remember as Ed Mertz on I Love Lucy). The show’s single-dad theme (plus precocious kids and a hoot of a character housekeeper/nanny) was later adapted by sitcoms of the late sixties into the ’70s like Petticoat Junction (1963-70), Family Affair (1966-71), Nanny and the Professor (1970-71), The Tony Randall Show (1976-78), and Diff’rent Strokes (1978-86), to name a few.

The show explored the trials and tribulations of single-parenthood from the male perspective. It was a revolutionary idea in 1960 that a man might be able to raise a family without a wife, because a family without women meant chaos. Indeed, with aerodynamics engineer Steve Douglas always away for work, domestic help was needed in the form of Bub O’Casey (William Frawley). When Frawley became seriously ill in 1965, his character was replaced by the brother of Frawley’s character, “Uncle Charley O’Casey” (William Demarest). Stereotypical portrayals of clumsy men working the domestic arena formed a foundation of My Three Sons humor.

Charley was a retired sea captain, a crusty curmudgeon with a heart of gold. Demarest looked every bit the part of a salty dog with his rough exterior. It was the type of role he was used to playing in his career. Demarest started out in Vaudeville and appeared in some of the very first talking films. He appeared in more than 100 films, including The Jazz Singer (1927) and also The Jolsen Story (1946), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.

In My Three Sons, Uncle Charley could be the font of wisdom on occasion, but mostly he was comic relief. He was the guy pictured ironing shirts while wearing a frilly apron, or cooking a meal like he was still onboard a ship. His movie-tough guy delivery and school-of-hard-knocks mannerisms made him the perfect cap in an all-male household.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbdtnSDAHk8ss

The series underwent several cast changes in its 12-year run. The first was Demarest replacing William Frawley. The show sent Frawley packing by having his character head back to Ireland. Next, Tim Considine, who had been a child actor with Disney, decided he wanted more time to act in films, pursue his love of auto racing and he also wanted to try his hand at directing. The show’s producers wouldn’t accommodate him, so he left in 1965. The series explained his absence by having his character, Mike, get married and move away. His character married his fiancee Sally (Meredith MacCrae, who went on to join the cast of Petticoat Junction).

After Mike moved away, the show was in need of a third son. They found the character in the guise of Ernie, who already regularly appeared on the show. The storyline had Ernie as a next-door neighbor and Chip’s classmate. Ernie was a foster child, but his foster parents were transferred to a job out of the country, so Steve Douglas adopted Ernie and he became the new third son. In real life, Barry Livingston (Ernie) was Stanley Livingston’s (Chip) brother.

In 1967 Robbie (Don Grady) married his girlfriend Katie (Tina Cole) who had previously been written into several episodes, then in 1969 dad Steve (Fred MacMurray) remarried, taking widow Barbara Harper Douglas (Beverly Garland) as his bride. Mister B has read that, ten seasons into its run by then, a lot of people thought the show jumped the shark when good old dad remarried.

Mister Boomer can recall and recite lines from many sitcoms of the 1960s. However, My Three Sons is not one of them. His family did watch it on their black & white TV, but Mister B doesn’t remember much at all about that show other than the great cartoon-sneaker opening and recognizable theme song. That is what made it so remarkable that a visualization of “Uncle Charley” should rocket the memory of a character from a show that aired fifty years ago into his consciousness.

How about you, boomers? Do you recall Uncle Charley and My Three Sons?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,TV and have Comment (1)

Boomers Both Feared and Laughed at Russia

Spying and hacking and meddling … oh my! Russia is in the news again, but that is nothing new to boomers. We lived with practically daily news about the country and people we were told were our biggest adversaries.

There are famous stories of General George Patton advocating war with Russia at the end of World War II. His rationale was that it was inevitable that we would face the country some day, and at that point we had troops and equipment available in the area already. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed, but just four years after the end of the war, the first salvo of the Cold War was hurled when the Soviet Union tested their first nuclear bomb.

We tended to use the terms “Russia” and “Soviet Union” interchangeably, though there was a difference. Russia was and is a country in and of itself, but the U.S.S.R. (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) was a collection of Country/States that comprised the Soviet Union, until its dissolution in 1991. The U.S.S.R. was under the control of the Communist Party, headquartered in Moscow, Russia.

Once the Soviets became the second state to possess nuclear capability, fear spread across the U.S. Boomers recall the Duck and Cover government educational film (1951) and the craze of people building home fallout shelters (See: Signs of the Times: Fallout Shelter Signs Were A Common Sight for Boomers). In the beginning we were told we’d survive a nuclear attack if we were at school, simply by sliding under our school desks. At home, we could survive indefinitely inside shelters that were either pre-made and installed, or custom made by the homeowner. These shelters were stocked with water, canned goods and everything a family might need to remain locked away underground until nuclear fallout clouds might dissipate. Information at the time thought that might not take more than a month — at least that is what the government was saying aloud.

Soon after the Soviets’ first nuclear test, the country was gripped by McCarthyism, named after Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) and the congressional hearings he chaired on the possible infiltration of Communists into the U.S. (1950-54). His first inquiries concerned the loyalty of government employees, then he targeted the film and TV industry.
The same year McCarthy began his “Red Scare,” the U.S. entered the Korean conflict, ostensibly to stop the spread of Communism.

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev said in a speech in 1956 that he felt the Communist system would outlast the western Capitalism system by saying, “We will bury you.” He repeated the phrase at the United Nations in 1960, pounding his fists and ultimately, his shoe, on his desk. The line elicited front page news for the American press. The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 added more fuel to the fire of nuclear fear (See: Boomer History: The Cuban Missile Crisis).

Meanwhile, the film and TV industry was busy doing what people always do to their adversaries — demonize and make fun of them. Some of the most popular movies and TV shows referenced the Soviet Union in an adversarial role. Most, however, may have made allusions to Russian spies and meddling, but the foes were more often super villains from international crime syndicates as opposed to state operators. Here are a few of Mister B’s Cold War favorites:

James Bond — The first James Bond film was released in 1962. The books, authored by Ian Fleming, did plot U.S. and Soviet spies against each other on occasion, but the movies seldom did. In From Russia with Love (1963), James Bond “must” seduce a beautiful Russian agent in order to acquire a decoder device. In You Only Live Twice (1967) super-villain Blofeld is capturing Soviet and American satellites in an effort to start a war between the two countries. In The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), British and Russian submarines are being hijacked, so the two countries’ governments combine forces to investigate. Heading into the 1980s and ’90s, the Soviets and British (and by proxy, Americans) appear in an adversarial role in several Bond films, but that is out of the range of the prime boomer years, so Mister B will leave that for your own research.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) – This movie set up a “what if” scenario of a rogue American general intent on starting a war between our two countries. In the movie, the U.S. President reaches out to the Soviet Ambassador to try to explain the situation and brings him into the top-secret War Room in the process. There, the Ambassador, skeptical of U.S. motives, is busy taking pictures of his surroundings. The satire showed the absurdity of our mutual distrust in the face of total annihilation.

Fail-Safe (1964) – Like Dr. Strangelove before it, this film creates a scenario where a nuclear exchange between the two countries is frighteningly close at hand. In this film, though, American bombers are accidentally sent to destroy Moscow due to electrical and computer malfunctions. The U.S. asks the Soviet Union for help in averting a worldwide crisis. Unlike Dr. Strangelove, this was serious drama. Mister Boomer had read the book in school before the movie was made.

The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966) – When a Soviet submarine accidentally runs aground off the coast of a small New England town, members of the crew realize they have no choice but to go ashore and seek help to free their vessel. Reflecting the paranoia of the day, townspeople mistake the small boat as a Russian invasion force. Merriment ensues.

Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale – Cartoon characters on Rocky and His Friends and The Bullwinkle Show (1959-64), these spies and dastardly do-no-gooders were actually from Pottsylvania, despite their obvious Russian names. Their superior was known as Fearless Leader. Boris’s name is a play on the name of Boris Godunov, a 19th century Russian tsar who instituted a spy system to protect his power from internal and external enemies. Boris Badenov proclaimed himself the “world’s greatest nogoodnik,” another reference to the Russian language.

Much taller than Boris, Natasha Fatale was his partner and evidently the brains of the operation. She appeared to hold some affection for Boris and often saved him from his own misdoings. Like Boris, she spoke in a broken English reminiscent of a Slavic-Russian accent.

Spy TV Shows — A series of TV shows cropped up in the early ’60s that used the Cold War as backdrop, but again, seldom mentioned Russia and the Soviet Union by name — although there were instances where the two countries worked together to thwart a common enemy. Among them were The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68),  I Spy (1965-68), The Avengers (1966-69), Mission: Impossible (1966-73), The Prisoner (1967-68), and Get Smart (1965-70). All of them used at least some humor in their scripts.

What memorable laugh or fear-stricken book, film or TV show about the Russians do you remember, Boomers? (For further Mister B insight, see: Laughing Through the Cold War)

posted by Mister B in Film & Movies,Pop Culture History,TV and have Comment (1)

Boomers Helped Make Super Bowl Commercials Super

This week Super Bowl LI (51) was played. If the final tally of viewership turns out to be anything like the last three years, more than 110 million people tuned in to watch the Big Game, the commercials and the halftime show.

Here are some fun facts for you:
• Super Bowl Sunday is the second biggest food consumption day in the US — only Thanksgiving tops it
• The game wasn’t televised before a true national audience until 1972; before then, the telecast was blacked out in the participating teams’ home cities
• The cost of airtime for a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl I in 1966 cost $37,500; this year it will top $5 million for the same 30 seconds

Speaking of commercials, Mister Boomer has previously delved into the boomer-era history of the Super Bowl (Boomers Got Super-Sized), but have you ever wondered how the TV commercials got to be an attraction in and of themselves?

Most sports historians point to Super Bowl III as the turning point. That game, played in January of 1969, pitted the New York Jets against the heavily-favored Baltimore Colts. A brash young quarterback, Joe Namath, guaranteed a win for the Jets. He was derided and ridiculed for his cockiness, but his prediction held true, with the Jets posting a 16-7 victory over the Colts. Interest in the game skyrocketed and viewers loved every minute of it, especially boomers. Namath became something of a folk hero among young boomers for his off-field antics, which earned him the nickname “Broadway Joe,” as well as his on-field play.

Namath’s celebrity status landed him a commercial for Noxema Shave Cream that aired during the 1973 Super Bowl. In it, Namath says, “I’m about to get creamed,” as a young Farah Fawcett covers his chin with the shave cream. It was quite a sensation, causing a sharp increase in sales for Noxema, and opening the door for memorable commercials in years to come.

In the years that followed, the country’s top businesses — including General Motors, Coke, Pepsi, Budweiser, IBM, Xerox and a host of others — spent increasing amounts of money producing commercials that, in many cases, were intended to run only once. Viewership of the game steadily increased, as did the cost of the commercial airtime. Nonetheless, it took until Super Bowl XXIX (29) in 1995 before the cost of a 30-second spot topped $1 million. Of course, the entire reason for advertising during a Super Bowl is the size of the viewer audience. Two years ago during Super Bowl XLIX (49), an all-time high was reached with more than 115 million viewers.

For marketers, the game is truly a dream come true because it reaches every demographic from Baby Boomers right through the current generation, and many boomers will tell you they have watched them all. In addition, the number of women watching the game — and the commercials — has risen to just under half the total viewers at this point.

Some commercials were more memorable than others, and boomers all have their favorites. Here are a few of what most boomers regard as truly memorable:
1977 — A monks uses a Xerox copy machine to make manuscript copies with the tagline, “It’s a miracle.”

1979 — Mean Joe Greene, defensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers starred in this one-minute spot for Coca-Cola. As Greene limps back down the tunnel to the locker room after an injury, a young boy (Tommy Okun, age 9) calls to him and tells him he thinks he is the best. Mean Joe doesn’t respond, and the boy hands him his Coke, which he downs in its entirety. As the kid turns and says, “See ya around,” Greene calls out to him, “Hey kid, catch!” tossing his game jersey to him. In 2011, Advertising Age voted it the number one Super Bowl commercial of all time.
1984 — Apple introduced the Macintosh computer with a memorable 1984-themed ad. In a play on the year and the George Orwell novel, the narrator announced, “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.”
1986 — The Budweiser Clydesdales made their Super Bowl commercial debut trotting through a snowy landscape. The iconic horses have since reappeared in numerous years.

There have been many more memorable commercials since then, but for boomers, the early days will always be the best. Mister Boomer sides with those who think the Apple Macintosh commercial was the best ever. The direction by Ridley Scott, dystopian theme and boomer-like revolutionary spirit propels that one to the top of his list.

What is your favorite Super Bowl commercial from our boomer heyday?

posted by Mister B in Pop Culture History,Sports and have Comments (2)

Some of Mister Boomer’s Favorites of 2016

It’s the New Year, traditionally a time to look back in reflection and ahead with hope. In that spirit, please enjoy some of Mister B’s hand-picked favorites from 2016.

Boomers and Torn Jeans: The Evolution from Time-to-Replace to High Fashion
Our mothers fretted over our torn “dungarees” only to find a decade later that torn jeans were part of the fashion scene.

Boomers Twisted the Night Away
Mister Boomer explored the origin of the Twist.

Boomers Loved Gene Pitney Songs
Early to mid-boomers probably count Gene Pitney among their favorite singers of the ’60s.

Boomers Heard the Quotes of Their History
We were there, man!

Boomers Benefited from Space Products
Are you aware of space technology in your everyday lives?

Boomers Will Recall 1966
Fifty years ago from the year that just passed, the times they were a’-changin’.

Boomer Comparison: Drug Stores Then and Now
The local pharmacy sure has changed since we were boomer kids. Here is a comparison.

Boomers and Bikinis Just Went Together
The role of the bikini in boomer-era movies is iconic and undeniably modern for the time.

Boomers Have Lived Through Many Eves of Destruction
The song reverberates even today.

Boomers Gladly Went Where No One Had Gone Before
2016 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the original Star Trek on TV.

Boomers’ Diets Have Changed Over 50 Years
Boomers watched the era of convenience foods enter the picture, and the American diet.

Boomers Saw Their Lives in “The Flintstones”
The technology employed in The Flintstones mimicked the space-age devices that were common in boomer households. The major difference was instead of electrically-powered devices, the action of the devices was powered by animals.

Here’s to another great year, and hoping your 2017 is boomer-ific!

posted by Mister B in Fashion,Film & Movies,Food & Beverage,Fun,Getting Older,Music,Pop Culture History,Space,TV,Uncategorized and have Comments Off on Some of Mister Boomer’s Favorites of 2016